If you are looking for a fun family show for Christmas this upbeat and hilarious reworking of the Snow Queen story is for you. Writer Charles Way has adapted the Hans Christian Anderson favourite into a lively and engaging romp of an adventure, following Gerda on her quest to free Cei from the wicked Snow Queen. On the way she grows in courage and strength, finding herself as well as her friend. Christopher James Ash’s joyful musical mash-ups had the children in the audience on their feet, dancing along, caught in the atmosphere and loving it.
Ayesha Casely-Hayford is a sweet and charming Gerda, initially prone to panic attacks, and becoming resourceful and brave as her journey progresses. Esmonde Cole’s Cei is a teenager messing up at school and looking for more in life. Their friendship felt real, and like something worth fighting for when Gerda’s father forbids them to see each other. The father is played by Justin Brett, who also plays Daffodil and Bae the reindeer. His preening and beautifully camp Daffodil was definitely one of the comedy highlights of the show, and he brings the reindeer, a beautiful and magical creature of the forest, ably to life. The snow queen enters with a powerful soprano outburst as Frances Marshall revels in her evil character, and the other three cast members, Matt Cavendish, Paula James and Sarah-Louise Young, play their multiple roles with gusto. James’ Princess Frederica and her sidekick played by Young were a TOWIE delight and Cavendish danced and bashed people with gay abandon in the forest.
All this activity took place in Gregor Donnelly’s imaginative set and Richard Williamson’s lighting that showed us stars, the northern lights and the passing of the seasons, with added atmosphere from James Nicholson’s sound design. Abigail Anderson, the director, has worked with her company to make a little bit of magic and a whole lot of fun.
“poignantly explores the highs and lows that come with a long-term relationship”
Over the years there have been some iconic love stories that have been shown on stage and screen: Romeo and Juliet, Kathy and Heathcliff, Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy, Sandy and Danny, Harry once he met Sally … the list is endless. However, it is very rare that you get to see beyond the happy ever after (or the tragic young death in the case of poor Juliet and her Romeo). Old Fools, at the Southwark Playhouse, poignantly explores the highs and lows that come with a long-term relationship. As the show’s playwright, Tristan Bernays, explains: “sometimes (relationships) they’re amazing; sometimes they’re f*****g hard; but that’s the deal. Can’t have one without the other”. With no set and no stage directions, this is a very stripped back and honest piece of theatre. It’s the actors and nothing else, baring their souls and crushing the audience with their honesty.
Through a series of snapshots, we are introduced to the couple Tom (Mark Arends) and Viv (Frances Grey). From their first meet in Paris, right up until their twilight years where Viv is lovingly caring for Tom now struck down with Alzheimer’s, we weave back and forth between the key moments of their life together.
Bernays’ skilful use of language cleverly draws scenes together by topping and tailing them with the same line of dialogue – just under different contexts. Likewise, movement director Lucie Pankhurst proves originality in the way she can smoothly make a moment turn from the embrace of young lovers, to an elderly wife lowering her incapacitated husband down to sit.
The chemistry between the actors Mark Arends and Frances Grey is truly magnificent. Grey effortlessly shifts between the characters of wife, daughter, doctor, whilst Arends gives a heart-breaking performance as a man who is gradually caught in the dreadful grips of such a debilitating disease. The real triumph is seeing Alzheimer’s exposed on stage in such a brutally true light. With statistically more of us likely to develop some form of dementia, Old Fools is a stark reality check of what could lie ahead in our future. Nevertheless, as much as Bernays’ work elicits many a tear and a sniffle from the audience, it also produces some heart-felt belly laughs at his witty repartee between Tom and Viv.